French literary movement: The enlightenment.
Period: The 18th century, after the death of Louis XIV (1715), saw a new era under Louis XV, known as the « Beloved. » This period was marked by ongoing wars against England, poor financial management, and episodes of famine due to harsh winters. It also saw an explosion of new ideas influenced by English thinkers. The end of the century saw the Revolution under Louis XVI in 1789.
Main figures: The main figures of this movement were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Diderot.
Notable works: Their most notable works include Voltaire’s Candide (1759) and Treatise on Tolerance (1763), Montesquieu’s Persian Letters (1721) and The Spirit of Laws (1748), Rousseau’s Confessions (1766) and The Social Contract (1762), and Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1750-1772), Jacques the Fatalist (1765).
Literary genres: The literary genres of the period included philosophical tales, epistolary literature, essays, and dictionaries. The dominant register was argumentative, aimed at persuasion and convincing readers.
The Enlightenment was an 18th century intellectual and philosophical movement that swept across Europe. Originating in France, it emerged after the death of Louis XIV (1715). During the regency (the government during the minority of the future king), intellectual and artistic life regained momentum. The end of the Sun King’s reign had taken place in a crepuscular atmosphere, in which censorship and the grip of religion were very strong.
The court returned to Paris and the youth of the future Louis XV (reader of the Encyclopedia) allowed the dissemination of new ideas, particularly in Parisian salons (gatherings of artists and intellectuals in the private homes of great aristocrats such as Mme Geoffrin, Mme Necker, or Melle de Lespinasse). Philosophers were in vogue, and questioned the foundations of society of the Old Regime (the society of the three orders, the Church, the absolute power of the monarchy).
Although philosophers of the Enlightenment encountered problems with power: regular censorship of Diderot’s Encyclopedia, Voltaire’s exile in England to escape imprisonment, use of literary techniques to avoid censorship (such as in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters). The philosophy of the Enlightenment continues to be expressed in the newspapers and journals that flourished in the 18th century.
The philosophy of the Enlightenment seeks to understand the world through reason. It fights superstition, intolerance, slavery, obscurantism (power and censorship of the Roman Church), absolutism (power of absolute monarchy). In contrast, it emphasizes science, tolerance, equality of rights, the pursuit of happiness, and above all knowledge that leads to « the light ». This movement then developed in the rest of Europe, notably in Germany (die Aufklärung) with the great philosopher Emmanuel Kant.
Following John Locke (English philosopher of the seventeenth century), and in fact marked by England and the modernity that emerged at the time, the philosophy of the Enlightenment questions the rights and natural laws, inalienable to man. If Montesquieu in The Spirit of Laws (1748) highlights natural laws infused by God, Rousseau in Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men (1755) accuses society of having moved away from natural laws. Nature therefore represents the divine or non-divine origin of the organization of society, which must be found.
Philosophy imposed itself in all literary genres. Poetry and theater, kings of the seventeenth century, are relegated to second place. The novel, the essay, the dictionary became the vehicles of new thinking. Utopian or imaginary stories allow to imagine better societies, and / or to criticize the existing organization, as in Voltaire’s philosophical tales or Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage (1772).
The philosophers of the Enlightenment fought together against tyranny, but did not necessarily share the same ideas on other issues. If the dispute between Rousseau and Voltaire is about pride, it also has its roots in a more egalitarian approach (more « left », of which Rousseau is the precursor with The Social Contract, 1762) of the one and more liberal of the other (« more right » as shown in his well-known poem The Worldly, 1736). Similarly, Rousseau and Diderot both attack property, but do not agree on progress. A real treasure for the encyclopedist, science corrupts man for Rousseau. Finally, if Voltaire is anti-clerical, he remains deist (« Prayer to God », in the Treatise on Tolerance, 1763), when Diderot is atheist (Conversation of a Philosopher with the Marshal of …, 1776).
Another French literary movements: French literary movement: Romanticism. French literary movement: Romanticism. French literary movement : The Surrealism movement.
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